March 13, 2008
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has been boasting that his state's health reform initiative has reduced the number of uninsured by half, with nearly 300,000 more people added to the health insurance rolls. What he doesn't say is that four out of five of them are relying heavily on taxpayer subsidies for their coverage, according to the Galen Institute.
Of the 293,000 people newly insured in Massachusetts:
- 160,000 earn less than $63,600 (for a family of four) and are enrolled in taxpayer-subsidized plans; more than half of them pay no premiums, and most others pay only a modest amount.
- 70,000 people were added to the rolls through expansion of the state's Medicaid program.
- Only 63,000 -- or about one in five -- have purchased private insurance.
About 60,000 are being exempt from the mandate that all citizens must buy coverage, showing how elusive the goal of universal coverage will be, even for a state that had a relatively low uninsured population to begin with, says Galen.
And costs are still an issue:
- Massachusetts now estimates that its spending on the new program for the uninsured may exceed its budget by nearly $150 million.
- Individuals who don't get insurance this year -- or don't get an exemption -- will face a fine of $912, four times last year's penalty and scheduled to increase each year.
- The state "negotiated" with the health insurers participating in the Commonwealth Connector to keep premium increases to about 5 percent this year.
- But the insurers said in order to keep their prices down, they warned they have to increase copayments and/or deductibles and/or cut benefits; many newly-insured say they have trouble finding primary care physicians who will see them.
Source: Grace-Marie Turner, "Massachusetts Struggles," Galen Institute, February 29, 2008
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